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Memorial for 3 Civil Rights Workers Slain in Mississippi 20 Years Ago Seeks to End Strains Between B

June 22, 1984
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At a service recalling the murder of three civil rights workers in the South 20 years ago, two prominent members of the Black and Jewish communities here called for easing up the strains between Blacks and Jews.

The Rev. Carl McCall, director of the New York State Commission on Human Rights, called on the 80 or so present for the service in the chapel of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations headquarters yesterday “to reappropriate the bonds of covenant and commitment which brought the three to their deaths.”

The service honored the memory of James Chaney of Mississippi and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner of New York. Chaney, a 21-year-old Black, and Schwerner, 24, and Goodman, 20, both Jews, were shot to death in Mississippi, where they and other volunteers were working to register Blacks to vote. Later, seven white men were convicted of the crime.

McCall, who never knew the three slain rights workers, said the revelation of the murders of the young civil rights volunteers broke the silence hiding earlier atrocities against Blacks in the South during the civil rights struggle. He likened the discovery of the bodies of the two white volunteers with their Black companions to the discoveries of the atrocities at the liberated Nazi concentration camps in its impact on world opinion.

Both the Black and the Jewish communities stand today as threatened communities, said McCall. Blacks are threatened by the Reagan Administration, which, he charged, is using its powers to take away the gains Blacks have earned since 1964.

Jews in New York also face continuing problems, said McCall. New York led the nation last year in reported anti-Semitic incidents, said the 47-year-old former New York State Senator.

McCall, speaking to an audience composed largely of invited leaders and staff of the UAHC, called for a renewal of what he said was the spirit of solidarity between Blacks and Jews.

Blacks must be alert for anti-Semitism within the Black community, said McCall, and be ready to repudiate it in addition to reeducating those who harbor bigotry.

“By the same token,” he added, “members of the Jewish community must not automatically equate policy disagreements about Israel’s borders and Palestinian rights from Blacks with anti-Semitism.”


McCall, formerly a Deputy Ambasador to the United Nations in the Carter Administration, is a supporter of the Presidential candidacy of Rev. Jesse Jackson. He went on to urge both Blacks and Jews to be sensitive to each other’s concerns. This, he said, would produce more determined opposition to apartheid in South Africa on the part of Jews and “more determined, focused outrage against the scandalous treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Syria on the part of Blacks.”

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC, the central body of Reform Judaism, welcomed Chaney’s sister, Mrs. Julia Chaney Moss and Goodman’s mother, Mrs. Carolyn Goodman Eisner, and pledged to them that “we will do everything we humanly can to make certain that though (the three) died in pain and in terror, they will not have died in vain.”

Schindler then emphasized what he said was the fulfillment of the slain trio’s immediate purpose. The deaths of the three inspired on even greater effort by those laboring that summer in Mississippi, which included over 800 student volunteers, up to half of which were Jewish. Their efforts, which produced the voting enrollment of thousands of Blacks, led a year later to the adoption of the landmark National Voting Rights Act.

Additionally, Schindler said, referring to the young volunteers’murders by members of the Ku Klux Klan, “the intermingling of Black and Jewish blood in the Mississippi delta has become the symbol of a relationship — the Black-Jewish nexus on the American scene–which is not as strong as it once was.”

Despite the stresses on their relationship, particularly those possed by the Presidential campaign, Schindler said Blacks and Jews continue to support each other, citing a Congressional race in Alabama where a Jew was elected, the mayoral race in Philadelphia where a Black was elected, agreement on most domestic issues and on such issues as nuclear disarmament and aid to Israel.

“As we were one in death, so must we be one in life. Blacks and Jews need one another, even as the struggle for justice needs us both,” Schindler concluded.

Earlier, Richard Cohen, a spokesman for the UAHC, said the service is part of an effort to implement a resolution by the UAHC trustees last month. The UAHC resolved to establish closer ties with the Black community and to overcome the divisiveness posed by the Jackson Presidential campaign.

The service, which lasted about 50 minutes, was conducted by Rabbi Balfour Brickner of the Stephen Wise Synagogue in New York. The service concluded with the Kaddish followed by the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” a song closely identified with the Black civil rights movement.

According to Cohen, no representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or other groups closely linked with the civil rights movement was invited. This, he said, was because of limited seating. He indicated that the family of Michael Schwerner, one of the three slain volunteers, declined to take part in the service.

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